The Business of Government Hour

 

About the show

The Business of Government Hour features a conversation about management with a government executive who is changing the way government does business. The executives discuss their careers and the management challenges facing their organizations. Past government executives include Administrators, Chief Financial Officers, Chief Information Officers, Chief Operating Officers, Commissioners, Controllers, Directors, and Undersecretaries.

The interviews

Join the IBM Center for a weekly conversation about management with a government executive who is changing the way government does business.

David Bibb interview

Friday, July 11th, 2008 - 20:00
Phrase: 
"The value of a central provider is that we really and truly can buy goods and services at tremendous discounts versus what a single agency could do on its own. "
Radio show date: 
Sat, 07/12/2008
Guest: 
Intro text: 
"The value of a central provider is that we really and truly can buy goods and services at tremendous discounts versus what a single agency could do on its own. "
Complete transcript: 

Originally Broadcast July 12, 2008

Washington, D.C.

Announcer: Welcome to The Business of Government Hour, a conversation about management with a government executive who is changing the way government does business. The Business of Government Hour is produced by The IBM Center for The Business of Government, which was created in 1998 to encourage discussion and research into new approaches to improving government effectiveness. You can find out more about The Center by visiting us on the web at businessofgovernment.org. And now The Business of Government Hour.

Mr. Morales: Good morning, I'm Albert Morales, your host, and managing partner of The IBM Center for The Business of Government.

Challenged by the administration, federal agencies have sought to identify new and smarter ways to do business and move toward a government that is citizen centered and results oriented. To be successful in this area, federal agencies require support and assistance, and the U.S. General Services Administration or GSA works to provide that support, staking a leadership role and reducing wasteful government spending.

With us this morning to discuss his organization's leadership is our very special guest, David Bibb, acting administrator at the U.S. General Services Administration.

Good morning, David.

Mr. Bibb: Good morning, Albert. How are you?

Mr. Morales: Good, good, thank you. Also joining us in our conversation is Marty Wagner, senior fellow at the IBM Center for The Business of Government.

Good morning, Marty.

Mr. Wagner: Good morning.

Mr. Morales: David, before we get started, could you set some context for our listeners by providing a sense of the history and mission of the U.S. General Services Administration? Can you tell us when it was created and what its mission is today?

Mr. Bibb: Sure, we were created in 1949, and really we were an outgrowth of World War II in a lot of ways. The government had a lot of real property assets that it needed to dispose of, and there was also a perceived need to centralize the acquisition of basic common goods. So GSA was set up to do those two things from the start. Over the years, the mission has grown to the point that we're a very large business today, doing business to the tune of about $60 billion worth of sales to other federal agencies and in some cases state and local governments too each year.

From time to time, because we do change, we revise our mission statement, and we did that last year. So our mission statement starts out by talking about leveraging the buying power of the federal government, which we can do, because we, as a $60 billion business, we're buying a lot of stuff -- goods and services and buildings. But we've added to that over the years, maybe this one goes back to 1949 when GSA was set up, but part of the mission statement says we exercise responsible asset management.

In other words, we have many historic buildings that are held in trust for the American people from here on out. They are going to be here as long as there is the United States of America and we take that stewardship seriously, and that extends to other areas too. But then we talk about in our mission statement delivering superior work places, and you wouldn't have found that when GSA was formed. We believe there is a direct co-relation between the quality of the workplace and the performance of the people who work in the space.

So we're getting better and better at figuring out how to provide good work places both within the buildings that we manage, and if people want to work at home or work anywhere else. That's why we call them superior workplaces because they can be anywhere. We also talk about expert business solutions; we think we can talk with an agency and understand how they operate and come up with solutions that they might not have even thought about themselves.

And then finally, the last phrase of our mission statement talks about innovative and effective management policies. We do have a government-wide policy rule that didn't exist when GSA was formed. And we always want to be -- the word innovative is in our mission statement, because we just can't be stagnant, whether it's developing policies or thinking about how we provide, you know, what are the services and goods that federal agencies are going to need 10 years from now, we've got to constantly innovate.

Mr. Morales: Well, it's a very broad and sounds like a very evolving mission that you describe. Can you give us perhaps some more particulars about the organization itself, perhaps, the size of the budget, you talk about $60 billion organization, the number of full-time employees, how you are geographically organized around the country?

Mr. Bibb: Well, we have our headquarters and 11 regional offices, and because of our buildings being in virtually every community, we actually have field offices in about a 120 locations, primarily for people to manage those buildings through contractors. We are primarily within the United States, although our federal acquisition service, goods and services that they supply are actually provided worldwide. So we have some people in Europe, some people in the far East, but the majority of our employees are in the United States, and we have 12,000 employees.

I mentioned the annual business volume; our revenue is $60 billion, because when you talk about budget, only about one percent of GSA's operating funds come from direct appropriations, the rest come from the fees that we charge our users. And in many areas we are non-mandatory, so we had to be sharp as a business or federal agencies will take their business elsewhere, so 12,000 employees, about $60 billion worth of business per year, one percent of that is appropriated geographic footprint, all over the country with our 11 regional offices and the field offices plus some presence overseas too.

Mr. Wagner: And David, now that you have provided us with a sense of the larger organization, perhaps you could tell us more about your specific role what your specific responsibilities and duties are?

Mr. Bibb: Well, I view myself as being in the front office of GSA and one of the roles is to be a face of GSA for both our employees, and for the vendor community, for our customers. So a part of it is symbolic and that goes with anyone who is number one or number two at any federal agency or any institution. I also have some pretty specific roles that I've carved out for myself. I've been very interested in really developing a strategic marketing capability within the agency, so that we are more intentional. When I say marketing, we're not out to raise revenues just for revenues sake, we believe we're the best way you're going in the government.

So we need to intentionally target who looks to be a good customer who could benefit from GSA. Another thing that I've been working in is our relationship with the Department of Defense, which is by far our largest customer on the federal acquisition side of the business. And I didn't mention before when we were talking about organization, our two main business lines are the federal acquisition service, which provides just about any good and service you can think about, and information technology services. The other side, the other major business is the public building service, which builds the federal buildings you see all over the country, it leases space for federal employers.

But our relationship with DOD has been over the last three years or so improving, we went through a rocky period of time when working with DOD, I think we were both to blame in some ways, we simply were not making good contracts, and we were not handling their money correctly. So it has taken some time to rebuild some of those relationships with DOD. So I've been working very hard myself with a working group to build -- rebuild that business and it has grown. We are up 6 percent this year in DOD business versus last year; many of our interfaces with DOD are on the upswing.

I feel like part of my job is to set strategic direction for the agency that's one reason we updated our strategic plan last year and then our executives performance plans and our individual performance plan is tied to that strategic plan, and their bonuses, both rank and file employees and executives are tied to in part, how well they do against those performance measures, which dovetail back to the strategic plan. Another key part of my job is to monitor performance, and we have a very strong quarterly performance review program. I sit in on some of those, for example, with the federal acquisition service and the public building service, and our chief financial officer, to see what they said they were going to do for the quarter and for the year, whether it's revenue or responsiveness in terms of time to respond to a customer, and I sit in on those, and see how we're doing, and if we are not doing well in an area, I'll be asking questions about -- how come.

And then the other piece really is the intangible of leadership; I think people need to be lifted above themselves, and I think that's part of my role is to be out there doing that, not so much as a cheerleader, but when I acted as administrator back a couple of years ago, one of the first things I did was to put out a video, and I did a series of those for all employees, almost kind of a personal one on one, they could bring it up on their computer anytime just to reassure them that the previous administrator left, but he had some very clear goals and that I was there to lead them in continuing to achieve and improve. I think that's important; I learned a long time ago about myself that on the scale of introvert to extrovert, I'm more introverted than extroverted.

So then I took a course in leadership where the guy who was teaching was very good about moving beyond yourself, giving the employees, the people you work with, a kind of shoot for the stars feeling, this is fun, this is -- you can do this, and I think that's a very important role. It is just the leader role. And I might mention something that may get a little touchy feeling, but I believe it's important; there is something called a servant leader that you really -- you remember that you're there to serve the people who are working in the agency, you're certainly there to serve the customer, but I believe in treating people well, I believe in treating people with respect, and I believe when you do that that it filters on down through the organization.

Mr. Wagner: David, could you maybe talk to the top three challenges you face and what you're doing to address them?

Mr. Bibb: Well, we have -- being a competitive non-mandatory competition is always a challenge and one calls that as our personal cause; and with me it is the proliferation of acquisition vehicles that have sprung up around the government. Most people think of GSA as the supplier of goods and services, but when you start looking across the government, there are over 250 vehicles that agencies can use either within their own agency or on an interagency basis that directly competes with what GSA does.

Now, we don't mind competition, but 250 is too many, that's proliferation to a scale that is out of control. So you know, I don't expect that to be fully remedied during this administration, there is not enough time left to do that frankly, but we do have transition coming up. It's an issue that we have discussed over the last few months with some of the political leadership within the administration, and certainly an issue that I intend to discuss with the incoming administration also. That's a challenge; another challenge in any big organization is just staying on the same page. We have so many people and so many programs that it's a challenge to get us all going in the same direction.

I found it to be very effective to form working groups; I mentioned I had the DOD GSA working group. At the table we'll have our congressional affairs group, our public affairs group, federal acquisitions service, public building service, our any -- chief acquisition officers, so that we all are hearing the same thing and we'll make assignments, and so often, and we'll agree on due dates, and it just helps to coordinate and we can bring everybody together.

The third big -- big challenge we have is just the shortage of capital for infrastructure, that's not unique to GSA. GSA owns about, or hour leases about one tenth of the total federal inventory of real property, because there are lots of defense bases, VA hospitals, energy plants, Department of Energy plants. So when you add it all up -- post offices, we have about 10 percent, mostly general purpose office space, we're all on the same boat. And you read about it on highways and bridges and anything in the nation's infrastructure. Too many needs and not enough dollars and in our current budgets -- budget arrangement in the U.S. government, it's a cash-on-the-barrel arrangement.

There is no creative financing or mortgage financing that just can't -- in my opinion that just can't continue forever; there are going to have to be new tools to deal with that.

Mr. Morales: So David, I understand that you started your career back in 1971 as an intern over at GSA, could you describe your career path for our listeners and as you sort of reflect in your career, you talked a little bit about leadership, were there other moments in your career that perhaps have shaped your current management style and approach?

Mr. Bibb: Well, I began in 1971, as you said, and in our Atlanta regional office, and that was a good place to start, because being in the head quarters, it certainly helps to have had some regional experience, because they are the folks who get the job done on the line. We set the policies, set the budgets, provide some leadership, but they are where the rubber meets the road. So that was very helpful to me; in 1978 I had an opportunity to come to Washington and I've stayed. I feel like a Washington area native by now certainly and have enjoyed it very much.

There have certainly been people and opportunities that have impacted my career. The first one was moving up here, at some time, people have to make a decision if they are going to make a physical move. And I had help in Atlanta, mentors, I had help when I got here, various people through my career have appeared or I've sought out for advice and counsel, I've tried to apply the lessons I've learned from those folks. I remember early on, not long after I came to Washington, one of the senior executives I work for, made it a point to take me along with several others, just to watch him as he testified before Congress. And he would probably testify ten or twelve times per year.

He was an absolute master at it, I adopted a lot of his techniques, I probably testified a hundred times before Congress, and every time I go up there, I'm thinking about some of the things I saw in action. All of that has led me to one role I serve at GSA, which is the mentoring champion for the agency. Most of my mentoring was informal mentoring, to toss a bouquet at Marty, he came along at a time in my career when it was time for a change; he offered me the opportunity to make a change when he worked at GSA and I did. And Marty was a good man, Al, but a lot of that was informal mentoring. We have a very strong formal mentor prot�g� program at GSA, and I think I'm committed to that because of the help I got along the way.

Mr. Morales: That's great. What is the value of having a central provider like GSA? We will ask David Bibb, acting administrator at the U.S. General Services Administration to share with us, when the conversation about management continues on The Business of Government Hour.

(Intermission)

Mr. Morales: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm your host Albert Morales, and this morning's conversation is with David Bibb, acting administrator at the U.S. General Services Administration. Also joining us in our conversation is Marty Wagner, senior fellow at the IBM Center for The Business of Government.

David, can you review the value of a central provider like GSA, but more specifically, with more than 10,000 contract holders on GSA scheduled contracts, how does the agency streamline its e-procurement program and ease the administrative burden on your employees?

Mr. Bibb: Well, the value of a central provider is that we really and truly can buy goods and services at tremendous discounts versus what a single agency could do on its own. We do allow agencies the freedom, for example, we set up airline contracts between all the major U.S. cities, and they should look at those first, but if they can go on one of the search engines online and find a cheaper rate, that's okay, they can do that, but our contracts with the airlines allow you to book one hour before the flight leaves, you get that set price.

If you cancel, you can cancel right up to the time of flight, just all kinds of flexibilities as you can get with an Internet deal. We buy automobiles and provide them to the agencies at, at least 25 percent off what you could find anywhere else. When we are able to pool our requirements, we know that we can buy a software sometimes at 15 percent of what buying a single item would be, so central provider just can aggregate that buying power and whether we are guaranteeing a level of purchases, which we do in some of our programs.

In other programs, we simply give vendors the opportunity to make themselves available to federal buyers that's called our Multiple Award Schedule Program. Still, they know that when they are on schedule, they are obligated to offer their lowest -- at least their lowest commercial price or to their most favorite customer, and then agencies can negotiate a price below that, so that's the central agency value proposition. And the same goes for public buildings. It doesn't make any sense in Washington, D.C. for example, to have 25 different agencies out in the Washington real estate market competing against each other, and we can make better use of our inventory by assigning and reassigning people the space.

And I want to mention one more thing about being a central provider. We have the ability to channel a lot of these purchases to groups like small businesses, service-disabled veteran-owned businesses, women-owned businesses, and so on, and we do that, we do it very, very well. We are one of the -- one of the highest rate of contracts with those groups of any federal agency. And then talking about simplifying the process, we have, under our previous administrator, Lurita Doan, we made a real concerted effort to cut down the amount of time it takes vendors to get on the GSA schedule.

And we actually have succeeded in getting some on at 30 days or less, which is versus 6 months or more, so that's helped. We have a number of -- you've mentioned e-tools, we have things like, to help our customers, e-buy, where you can simply go in and go to our Multiple Award Schedules. If you are an agency that is required to get three bids and for a certain dollar volume contract you are, simply plug that into our tool it will evaluate the offers and pop out the best deals that we have on the Multiple Award Schedule.

We have a lot of tools to help our employees deal with the volume of work that they have to do from automated systems that lead you through making a contract, we are particularly strong on that and the Public Building Service, to upgrades in our financial system that make them much easier to work, but we couldn't do it without automation. We are basically -- I mentioned we have 12,000 employees. We are basically an agency of contractors and contracting officers who are seeking to pull all of these goods and services and buildings together, so that other agencies can either order against our contracts themselves or use our experts. We do have experts to assist them in putting together a set of requirements. So we are heavily dependent upon e-tools both for the vendors that we interface with, with our clients and to help people process-wise too.

Mr. Morales: Now, David, you mentioned briefly buildings and properties, could you tell us a little bit more about your work in policy involving real property and assessment management. What have you done to sort of enhance the efforts in this area?

Mr. Bibb: Well, a lot of what I did actually occurred before I became deputy administrator in 2003. I remain involved in it, because most of my career has been in real estate -- on the real estate side of GSA with the Public Building Service and then in -- for several years in the Office of Governmentwide Policy. But probably the most effective thing that I did while I was -- this occurred while I was in the Office of Governmentwide Policy was to put forth a comprehensive piece of legislation, which would have amended the 1949 Act for the first time in the real property area in 55 years or so.

We put forth to the Congress a whole series of changes asking every property holding agency to name a federal or property officer. They would then come together in a council; we had provisions for improving the database of federal real property. Many agencies had no idea what they owned at least worldwide. And we also had some creative tools in there that would have given the agencies the opportunity, not just GSA, but other agencies the opportunity to retain proceeds if they sold a building and to enter into contracts that would in effect, spread the cost of a project over time, and we were very careful at how we structured that.

The end result was, we got passage unanimously by two committees in the House, both they were unanimous bipartisan approval. We ran into some difficulties with the Congressional Budget Office on the -- how those were scored against the federal budget and a real difference of opinion with them, but it was serious enough that it led to the legislation being stopped in its tracks. But out of that came conversations with the Office of Management and Budget in which they said well, let's do what we can that was in your bill under executive order.

So the President did issue an executive order on real property management and that called for the naming of a senior real property official in each agency, the formation of federal real property council, the establishment of a governmentwide database, all of which have been done and all of which the Government Accountability Office has recognized as really good practices. What is still left to be done is this issue of how do we get the money to do the renovations that everybody needs to do, but I am very proud of some of the efforts that I was involved in there to make something happen and there are still discussions going on even with OMB now that I have participated in even within the last month about what can we do about this problem.

I am not having the cash on the barrel, none of us, you know, whether we have a mortgage crisis or not, I still don't see anybody going out and paying cash for $400,000 house. There's another way to do it and that's the position we are in, if we are going to renovate our home, we have to have the $200,000 in hand to do it, using home as a metaphor for the -- for a building. If we are going to buy a new house we would have to have the $300,000 cash in hand which of course is not the way the world really works, but that is the way the federal budgeting process works.

I've been very supportive of efforts in the Public Building Service to what we call tier their inventory -- t-i-e-r. Their inventory is layered into three levels, number one, are the real money-making buildings where we must reinvest. The scarce dollars we have that we collect from the agencies in rent, go into a fund and from that fund we allocate as much money as we possibly can to those tier one buildings. Then we have on the other end of the spectrum, tier three buildings, which there is just not much reason to keep them, and we will try to sell those or dispose them otherwise.

And then we have tier two in the middle, which with proper investment could become profitable and profit -- I am only saying profit, because we -- obviously we can't have a whole inventory of buildings that lose money. We have to make operating expenses off that inventory, so I've been very supportive of that and that continues today.

Mr. Wagner: David, GSA has made some significant management and financial changes to procurement operations over the last five years, would you elaborate on these efforts and how have these changes enhanced accountability, transparency, and delivery of services to customers?

Mr. Bibb: Well, Marty, in some parts of our business, we just didn't have any choice. We were doing some things -- I don't think anybody was intentionally doing anything wrong. but things for example, that were being bought under the information technology contracts clearly want information technology, and I won't go into details about that, but that was happening, so we had to go back about 3-1/2 years or so ago and make sure that everybody understood the rules and were buying proper things on behalf of other agencies through the proper vehicles on the proper account so we straightened all that out.

At that time we had a program called "Get It Right," which was another initiative that I chaired, another one where we brought everybody around the table, as I talked about, and the whole reason for doing that was we simply had no choice, but to contract correctly. There was even a legislation passed in the defense authorization bill that said start doing it right our defense won't do business with you anymore. And we were subsequently in that law, it called for review by the DOD IG and the GSA IG, so we had to get our act together.

At the same time, we weren't always handling agency's funding correctly. We have revolving funds; agencies generally have funds that expire at the end of 1 year. What we were doing was taking some of that 1-year money putting it into our fund and then it magically became multiyear money, which is not a correct way in our view, although there had been some legal opinions. At that I said, it was okay, its not-- we did not, no longer view that as okay, so we had to straighten that out.

In the middle of that, we lost our clean audit opinion after like 17 straight years of having a clean audit opinion. So we had to -- we had to change the way we were acquiring goods and services to be sure we were having competition, to be sure the statements at work weren't being written to steer work to a particular contractor and we don't do that anymore.

And we handle agency's money correctly now, and we regained our clean audit and all of those things were wrenching changes and caused us in some cases to lose some business, because agencies -- some agencies had grown used to tell GSA what you want, GSA will go buy it for you. And we had to make -- we had to change that, but I believe today, it's a value-add. It's a competitive advantage, I think agencies can trust us to do it correctly to handle their money correctly, which is important to them and to go through the procurement process, so we don't have protests and they don't have problems with their own inspector general, so major changes over the last 5 years particularly on the federal acquisition side of the house that made us better.

Mr. Wagner: Thanks. Now, David, what has GSA done to enhance and transform its customer service capability? To what extent, for example, has GSA one voice kept sure that the intent of your integrated approach to produce greater value for customers and bring your organization closer to its vision of one face to the customer?

Mr. Bibb: Well, we have done a couple of things to enhance our customer service capability; both our Public Building Service and our Federal Acquisition Service have put together very strong customer relationship groups both in the headquarters and in the field. They've both made major progress in scheduling visits for their customers, talking with them about their needs. A big problem I saw was the two groups weren't talking to each other, and we had two GSA's out there interfacing with our customers. So one thing I have been working very hard to do is to bring the Federal Acquisition Service and Public Building Services together where it makes sense.

It doesn't always make sense, but even when you are working on a contract for airline contracts, if you don't do a good job of that on the federal acquisition side of the house then someone in an agency is going to get a bad view of you as an agency and that could impact your public buildings business. But there are other cases where, particularly where agencies are in need of space and we provide it where we just have not done well in the past at integrating the building itself, the furniture systems, the information technology, even vehicles all that goes along with providing a workplace.

So we have now by having the Public Building Service and Federal Acquisition Service, come together, we now have a process by which automatically at certain points in the process, they will come together and they will talk about needs and they will deliver those seamlessly. At the same time, the two customer groups are working together for example, I've done a series of outreach visits to heads of other federal agencies and the two groups work together, FAS and PBS, Federal Acquisition Service and Public Building Service to put together a joint product that I then use as we visit secretary of veterans affairs, for example.

The public buildings plan will have a reference to the services at the Federal Acquisition Service as a reminder to all of our customer service reps in public buildings that they should be talking about FAS, federal acquisition programs and vice versa. So we've done a lot to promote this idea that we really are one big agency and there are lots of models in the private sector where you have a number of business lines, but you have the same set of expectations as far as service levels and various business levels working together when it makes sense and that's what we are trying to do in GSA.

Mr. Morales: Now, David, just transitioning here a bit, I understand that you are preparing to transition to a new government-wide telecommunications contract known as the networks program. I only have about a minute left, but could you elaborate on the networks program and how do the advanced technologies and services define within this program serve as a platform if you will, to transform the government's telecommunications infrastructure to something that's a bit more seamless and secure?

Mr. Bibb: We've come a long way from providing long distance service, which is what the ancestor of this program is to be. You can get anything under the networks contract, anything you can think of, and right now, the agencies there are so many offerings, there are 50 versus 15 under the old FTS 2001 contract. It was called under networks, there are 50 different services. IP voice over anything that is cutting edge, things that are in common use and things that we think are coming along are available under networks.

We think it has a potential to be transformative. Some agencies are moving a little slowly, they are a little hesitant to transform at the same time as they are switching from the old network to the new one, so some will probably just slide over the same thing they've been buying from us and put it under this new contract. Other agencies are using it to rethink the entire way that they organize their business and their way of operating. So what we have put in place can range from, well, just meeting the basic need to just being a very, very sophisticated set of communication tools that are available to all of the federal agencies.

Mr. Morales: That's Great. What about GSA's leadership role during the presidential transition, we will ask David Bibb, acting administrator at the U.S. General Services Administration, to share with us when the conversation about management continues on The Business of Government Hour.

(Intermission)

Mr. Morales: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm your host Albert Morales, and this morning's conversation is with David Bibb, acting administrator at the U.S. General Services Administration. Also joining us in our conversation is Marty Wagner, senior fellow at The IBM Center for The Business of Government.

David, as we begin to gear up for an administration transition here in a couple of months, GSA plays an integral role in making this transition as smooth and as seamless as possible. Perhaps you could give us a brief historical perspective on what led GSA to have such a critical role during these transitions and how has that authority evolved over the years.

Mr. Bibb: We have by statute, in the 1963 Presidential Transition Act, certain duties that no other agency has. That act was put into law in recognition that the Congress needed to codify this time when we would be changing governments. And it basically says that GSA will provide all the space, all the telecommunications, all the furniture, all the payroll services, all the travel services for the incoming administration. And that begins on the day after the election and continues through January 20th, with a little wind-down period after that.

So there is a little piece of trivia -- who is the only person named by law as being responsible for calling the winner of the presidential election prior to the convening of the electoral college, and of course the answer is the administrator of General Services. It actually says in the law that the administrator will determine the apparent winner and then the reason for that is so we can begin providing these services to the transition team. We hold the keys until a clear winner is apparent and then we turn over what will be 120,000 square feet of space for 600 people who will go about the duty of forming the new government.

We've gotten a lot more sophisticated about how we do that. We have a very good 40-person team that will be going 24/7 beginning about 3 months from now. We began preparing for this 6 months after the last election; we are in great shape. The team could -- transition team could move in tomorrow if they needed to, but on another front there is really nobody when you look at transition -- nobody in the federal government is responsible for telling the executive branch how to transition.

And we are finding that because we had this other role in transition and many agencies are calling upon us to kind of share best practices about what do you do, how do you treat the outgoing political appointees, what kind of counseling do you give them? How do you go about preparing briefing materials for the incoming transition team and for the presidential appointees who are going to be nominated? And there are some agencies that have had enough turnover that they just -- they don't know what they are supposed to do.

So our chief human capital officer, Gail Lovelace, and I have found ourselves on a traveling road show. We've probably spoken at least a dozen times over the last 2 or 3 months to other agencies and other interest groups who are just interested and want to know, are you doing it over there at GSA because you seem to know what you're doing. So that's -- kind of an informal role that's developed, but it's actually the thirst for information about what to do and how to do it during transition is pretty amazing.

Mr. Wagner: David, I'd like to maybe follow up on the specific activities that GSA does and maybe work through if -- you can maybe work out specific stories to illustrate the points that you've made and perhaps some of the best practices that you found work best in this situation.

Mr. Bibb: Well, the -- on our one -- on the duty I mentioned of providing all the facilities for the incoming administration, the best lesson we learned about that is to start early. If you start looking for office space in Washington, D.C., with 6 months left to go before the election, you're going to be in a lot of trouble. So that was one thing that we learned to do.

In transition, in general, I will say there -- whether it's GSA's special duties or we're talking about dealing with the -- what we call the parachute teams from the transition group that actually drop into the agencies to learn about what the agencies do and how they go about functioning and what their issues are.

But a couple of universal principles apply to both of those. One is to be prepared. We are certainly prepared on the provision of facilities. We are -- have already begun work on our briefing materials for the incoming administration and our issue papers, things that we want to lay before the incoming group. Another lesson learned is that the first impression is absolutely critical. That is one thing that we are ever mindful of with our folks.

We put on the transition support team, the 40 people I mentioned who work round the clock to support the transition activities. We put our very best people on that because not only are they representing GSA, but for many people who are forming the new government and will in fact work in the new government this is their first exposure to federal employees. So we are very mindful that on behalf of the entire federal government we need to be sharp and do a sharp job. But that also applies back to any agency when the transition team comes in. You've got to know what you are talking about; you can't be halfway prepared or wander around in philosophical discussions.

I think it's just important that people see professional people who know what they are talking about, have the issues nailed, and you only get one chance to make that first impression, so that's critical. I think it's critical and important to make it clear to the incoming folks who we work for, we work for them. And most federal employees know that very clearly, that we work for the president of the United States, we are part of the executive branch, and we are here to help you succeed with your agenda.

Now, we may have some issues that we think you ought to consider, but we want to convey that understanding upfront they we're not here to oppose you, fight you, carry our own hidden agenda forward. We're here to be part of your team because you're going to need us and we're going to need you, and then I think the last lesson is don't be afraid to advance ideas. I think the incoming groups will have ideas of their own certainly, but they're not going to have all the ideas that they'd like to pursue, so I think they're grateful to get the full spectrum of things as we see them. That's been my experience anyhow.

Mr. Wagner: Well, moving beyond the transition and to your biggest customer, the Department of Defense, their -- the amount they've been spending on services has been steadily increasing over the past decade and DOD is taking steps to improve how it buys those services. To that end, what is GSA doing to influence DOD's use of non-DOD contracts and what steps are you taking to foster GSA's working relationship with the Defense Department?

Mr. Bibb: As, Marty, I think you know, I've been -- and I mentioned earlier I've been chairing for a couple of years now a GSA-DOD working group which is an internal working group that meets biweekly with our sole function being to figure out how to be a better provider for our biggest customer. What we actually do coming out of those meetings covers a broad front after -- I mentioned earlier that both the DOD IG and GSA IG looked at our assisted acquisition program under the provisions of the Defense Authorization Act a couple of years back.

Out of their audits came some 20 action items that they felt like needed to be done. We sat down, formed a team to sit out with DOD, and went through -- fleshed those out in a almost a to-do list of things to get done and we have religiously worked that with DOD even when it's gotten hectic at DOD and sometimes they didn't have time. We'd be panting on the door saying it's time to sit down and talk about the MOA. And then we've reported back to the Congress, every month or every 2 months with a summary -- or quarterly of what we've done against that memorandum of agreement to make sure that we are both contracting correctly.

Beyond that we talk about pursuing business opportunities with DOD on every front at our meetings we will talk about now the commissioner of the Federal Acquisition Service is going to meet with the following people on the following schedule. Have you talked with e Army recently, when are you going to talk with Air Force? All the way down to what kind of visits our customer service representatives in the field are making. And the whole idea also -- things have changed with DOD -- within DOD some.

In the past, if a program officer or base commander wanted something he would just tell GSA he needs it. DOD has instilled more control within their program so that they are asking their contracting officers to sign off before DOD comes to GSA for services. That means our people have had to in addition to have a relationship with the base commander, they've also had to make -- establish a relationship with contracting shop in DOD because you need both of them to want to do business with you before the business will come your way. So our discussions are fairly wide-ranging, those were a couple of examples of the things we do.

Mr. Morales: David, there's been a fair amount of discussion and activity around a government-wide standard for secure and reliable forms of identification for both federal employees and contractors. Could you elaborate on Homeland Security Presidential Directive 12, commonly known as HSPD-12? Just real quickly, what are some of the key requirements of this directive and can you tell us about the services that your organization is offering in this area to agencies?

Mr. Bibb: It's -- it's was a concern of the President that we all have across the government identical and interoperable identity cards as government employees or as government contractors. There must have been 100 different systems before this presidential directive came out. The directive came out and GSA had a strong role in setting the standards for what that identity card would look like and that identity card is used both for admittance to federal properties and for logging into your computer system.

The idea is to make it a kind of one-stop identity card. It's strongly resistant to tampering, counterfeiting, has all kinds of built-in security features, got the photo -- your photo, fingerprint ID electronically embedded on the card, so that it's very hard to misuse it. So GSA, in addition to playing a strong role in developing the standards for that card which are now standard across the government, also is operating what we call a managed service office, in effect it is a business under the Federal Acquisition Service to provide credentials to some 800,000 federal employees and contractors.

Now, DOD is running its own system, but we have put in place 200 enrolment centers. So far it's not going as fast as I would like, we have something in the neighborhood of 100,000 employees and contractors, what we call sponsored, that is minimal information is available to get the process rolling and that's increasing at about 5,000 a week, but we need to issue 800,000 of these things. At the rate we're going we'll hit about 250,000 or 300,000 by the end of the year and we need to do a larger volume than that in order to -- we have assumed certain volumes of business in order to give a very inexpensive rate for each card and we're not coming up to those business volumes.

So we are working with the Office of Management and Budget, you know, get a little fire lit. Some agencies are not moving as fast as we'd like to see them move. It's a great thing though when. It's in place there will be background checks done before you can get your card whether you are an employee or contractor and it will just eliminate a lot of very bulky non-interoperable systems that we have now and replace it with a state-of-the-art tool.

Mr. Morales: What does the future hold for the U.S. General Services Administration? We will ask David Bibb, acting administrator at the U.S. General Services Administration to share with us when the conversation about management continues on The Business of Government Hour.

(Intermission)

Mr. Morales: Welcome back to our final segment of The Business of Government Hour. I'm your host Albert Morales, and this morning's conversation is with David Bibb, acting administrator at the U.S. General Services Administration. Also joining us in our conversation is Marty Wagner, senior fellow at The IBM Center for The Business of Government.

David, most achievements in government are not solo acts, certainly some of the best programs are accomplished by teams of employees within the government. Could you elaborate on your approach to empowering your employees? How do you lead change and enable your staff within the organization to accept the inevitability of change and make the most of it?

Mr. Bibb: Well, Albert, there are a variety of methods that I've found to be effective. I do believe in consensus up to a point and will strive for that, not to the point of paralysis, because I've seen that in action too. I think you want to get a lot of people's viewpoint, if time permits. Other times you're going to have to move quickly and say this is the way it is and hope you can pick up support along the way.

I use a variety of techniques myself as a leader, one is, I've mentioned earlier, the videos. They are a great way to get out to everybody so that they can see you, get a feel for your personality as you have a -- what amounts to a one on one. It's not really a conversation but a talk with the person, and communication itself is vitally important.

I've probably said enough about the various working groups we have but a vital component of each one of those is a communication strategy and that's a communication strategy both we will talk about. Our own employees, our own executives across the country, congressional staffs we deal with, members of Congress, the vendor communities that we deal with, whenever we're thinking about doing anything of substance, we have to stop and think about each of those communities and how we communicate that change to them. So communication is vital, and that's part of making change happen, being sure everybody is well aware of it and not surprised by it.

We also manage very much by performance measures and personal performance plans across GSA to the point that -- and we've gotten much better at having a common set of performance measures now. Some regions do a few different tasks from other regions and we allow for that and the headquarters are a little bit different from the regions, but everybody knows that those performance plans make a difference. The strategic plan is done first, then the performances -- organizational plans are done, then the individual plans are done, and people know that their success depends in a large part on how well they're carrying out that cascade of things that start at the strategic level.

Mr. Wagner: David, we talk with many of our guests about collaboration. What kinds of partnerships are you developing now to improve operations or outcomes at GSA, and could you also speculate into the future, how may these partnerships change over time?

Mr. Bibb: We have everything from formal partnerships which are where we -- for example, I was asked to come out to Scott Air Force base to meet with the U.S. Transportation Command, TRANSCOM. This is co-headed by a four-star general. The four-star and I hit it off very, very well. Then he paid a visit to our headquarters and out of that we said, you know, we really have some things in common we can work together on. Why don't we memorialize that and enter into a memorandum of agreement that here is what Defense Logistics Agency will do, here is what GSA will do, here is what the U.S. Transportation Command will do. Let's put that down on a paper and we'll all sign it, and that's just worked terrifically well.

There are other cases where a formal memorandum of understanding or memorandum of agreement is not the way to go; you want a much more informal approach. And we try to do that, I mentioned earlier the customer visits we have which -- where I might go visit the secretary of a cabinet-level agency, take along our top leadership team, and they would have theirs. And lots of times the things we talk about -- we talk about basic services, we go in prepared to talk about issues they may have with some of the things we're providing. But we try to open their eyes to some of the things that might help them get their job done better than they are doing it now. And nearly always we come away from that with a new area of business to pursue, becomes pretty self-evident.

We are also working very hard to develop better partnerships with associations that represent our vendor community. We've been active in those for some time, but we want to look for even more opportunities. If there is an association of vendors that had been dealing primarily with the Department of Defense we are making it our business to become a part of that association, so that we're part of the conversation. Not to be in competition with Defense because that's not our role but sometimes there is an area that we can slide in nicely that might not be provided, but we need to know the people.

So we have a variety of partnership-type of arrangements, from formal, to informal, to outreach, to making it a conscious decision to be active in various associations.

Mr. Morales: So David, as we continue to sort of look into the future, can you give us a sense of some of the key issues that will affect GSA and government-wide procurement over the next few years and how do you envision your office will need to evolve to meet some of these challenges?

Mr. Bibb: I've mentioned a couple of them, some of the key issues. I mentioned the proliferation of contract vehicles. We now have another key issue that we're dealing with right now is how to be sure, you know, you mentioned we had 10,000 contractors, we have -- a lot of them are on our multiple-award schedules. We do $35 to $40 billion worth of sales of those schedules annually. And we want to be sure that the people who are ordering against those schedules are getting the best price.

There has been a lot of discussion about whether the clauses we use now to ensure that best price are the most effective clauses that we can possibly have. That's what we want, we're not making change for change's sake, we want a good clause in those multiple-award schedule contracts that will ensure the best possible price and value for the customer.

So Lurita Doan, our former administrator established a blue-ribbon panel to take a look at that. And it includes people from associations and it includes contracting officers from across the government. The Department of Defense is chairing it actually, a representative from the Department of Defense. When those recommendations start rolling those will be major issues for us to deal with unless of course they say, leave things as they are, in which case it won't be too earthshaking but they would reaffirm that what we have in place is the best way to go.

That is a key element in our ability to continue to -- that's our premier vehicle, you know, that's two-thirds of our $60 billion a year. So we need to be sure those are best value, those results, as I said, will be rolling out this fall.

I think the role of every contracting organization in the government is strapped for people and there is a continuing debate about how much you can do with in-house government employees versus hiring private sector to help with the contracting process. We think there is a role for the private sector in that contracting process and we do use contractors to help us. But they don't sign the contract; that's a government function. There are certain decisions they can't make.

There are others ,particularly in the Congress, who don't think that's a good idea at all. We were somehow to be barred from going down that route. We already have a problem with having enough contracting officers as it is. That would exacerbate that problem greatly, but it's an issue that's still out there.

So well, that kind of leads me to the last issue which is just the shortage of qualified contracting people and the people who're walking out the door. We've just got to find ways of bringing people in, getting them up to speed quickly, giving them the right training, presenting the contracting field as a desirable thing to do for a career and developing that.

Mr. Morales: So David, on that note, you've obviously had over three decades of a very successful career over at GSA. So what advice might you give someone who perhaps is out there considering a role within government and perhaps maybe even a role within the procurement community?

Mr. Bibb: Well, you know, it's -- my feeling on that is changing. I came onboard in the 1970s and by the 1980s it was a bad thing to be a federal employee. We were told time and again in the press and by the politicians that we were basically a bunch of bums who were sitting around with our feet up on the desk. And it got to the point that as my own children were growing up they would say, well, what do you think, Dad, do you think I should think about a government career? And I said, I don't think you should, I think, you know, you get no respect, people think we're loafing our way through life and I'd go for something else.

If I were advising them today, you know, I think the tide has turned a little bit. You look at some of the opinion surveys -- and you can't base it all on opinion surveys, but you know, there are a lot of federal employees who are doing a great job and the work can't be beat for interest. So I would certainly be less vocal in my steering my kids away and I might even steer them toward it, toward a career in public service. They've gravitated that way anyhow.

To others I really do think things have changed. The retirement system has changed, your retirement system is portable, you can take it with you. I would say to anybody who has any inkling of an interest in public service, give it a shot. Your pension is going to be portable; you can -- if you don't like it you can go elsewhere. I will say that for young people particularly there is nowhere you can go and get the level of responsibility and challenge that we offer at an early stage of a person's career.

And the sky is the limit as far as you can do as much as you want to do. As a matter of fact our recruiting material at GSA -- say you can do that here, because we have a job for just about everybody in GSA.

Mr. Morales: Let's say that's a wonderful perspective, thank you. Unfortunately, we have reached the end of our time. I want to thank you for fitting us into your busy schedule. But more importantly, Marty and I would like to thank you for the 36-plus years of service that you've given our country.

Mr. Bibb: It's been a pleasure, and I will say that as far as working for GSA it's a great place to work, tremendous organization, very sharp people, very dedicated people. We have a very distinct mission that's measurable, that at the end of the day you can look at what you've done and know that you've delivered great service and great price. And I would simply say to anybody who is interested in what GSA does, take a look at our website, gsa.gov. You can find out anything you want to about GSA there, or if you're interested listening to this and interested beyond GSA and want to know more about the federal government, visit a website developed by GSA, it's what Time magazine has identified as one of 25 websites you cannot live without. It's called usa.gov and anything you want to know about the federal government is right there.

Mr. Morales: That's great, thank you.

This has been The Business of Government Hour, featuring a conversation with David Bibb, acting administrator at the U.S. General Services Administration. My co-host has been Marty Wagner, senior fellow at The IBM Center for The Business of Government.

As you enjoy the rest of your day, please take time to remember the men and women of our armed and civil services abroad who may not be able to hear this morning's show on how we're improving their government, but who deserve our unconditional respect and support.

For The Business of Government Hour, I'm Albert Morales. Thank you for listening.

Speaker: This has been The Business of Government Hour. Be sure to join us every Saturday at 9:00 a.m. and visit us on the web at businessofgovernment.org. There you can learn more about our programs and get a transcript of today's conversation. Until next week, it's businessofgovernment.org.

David Bibb interview
07/12/2008
"The value of a central provider is that we really and truly can buy goods and services at tremendous discounts versus what a single agency could do on its own. "

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